I gave up on the Lancet fight a long time ago; I can’t remember now whether the flurry of allegations and counter-allegations about error and fraud raised sufficient question in my mind about Lancet’s conclusions, or if the entire discussion just became too technical and complicated for me to follow. In any case, I was pretty sure then and I’m pretty sure now that we’ll never have a reliable number for the total Iraqi death toll from 2003-2010, and that we’ll probably never even have a very good estimate. In large part, this is because the holders of the relevant data all have strong incentive to deceive.
That said, there are still a couple of relevant points. The first is that we should start with the assumption that IBC is an undercount, and perhaps a very serious one; that they’ve determined in a very short period from a limited release that they were at least 15% off is rather a problem. Second, I find the decision to avoid including military and insurgent Iraqi deaths in overall summations infuriating, for a couple of reasons:
1. There appears to have been minimal effort in some cases to distinguish between military and civilian deaths:
And even when Americans were at the center of the action, as in the western city of Falluja in 2004, none of the Iraqis they killed were categorized as civilians. In the early years of the war, the Pentagon maintained that it did not track Iraqi civilian deaths, but it began releasing rough counts in 2005, after members of Congress demanded a more detailed accounting on the state of the war. In one instance in 2008, the Pentagon used reports similar to the newly released documents to tabulate the war dead.
2. Soldiers in the initial part of the conflict, and insurgents killed from 2003 on, were still human; they had families, jobs, contributed to their communities, had skills, and so forth. With the exception of a relatively small number of foreign fighters, very few of the insurgents would have been fighting if the United States hadn’t invaded Iraq, and consequently very few of them would have been killed. Their deaths, whether or not they were fighting the United States or the Iraqi government or even on behalf of Al Qaeda, have the same damaging effects on Iraqi society and the Iraqi economy as the deaths of civilians. Even if they were “bad guys,” they still leave a hole in the community when they die. An appropriate measure of the damage inflicted on Iraq has to include soldier and insurgent deaths as well as civilian.